Judge Barbier has ruled that a Plaintiff in the ongoing medical benefits class action over the BP PLC Deepwater Horizon disaster is entitled to a jury trial. There could be potentially thousands of jury trials involving personal injury claims. Judge Barbier found that a 2012 medical benefits settlement did not preclude claimants filing so-called back-end litigation option (BELO) — which enables class members with physical conditions that manifested after April 2012 to file their own separate suit in certain circumstances — from requesting a jury. The ruling addressed whether an individual class member’s BELO complaint was bound by class counsel’s decision to opt against requesting a jury in the original class action complaint and to designate the claims in the suit as admiralty or maritime claims. Judge Barbier said in his order:
While the medical settlement does contain a general provision requiring that it be interpreted in accordance with general maritime law, the court does not read this provision as mandating admiralty’s traditional bench trial procedure for a BELO lawsuit. The court holds that a BELO plaintiff who properly invokes diversity jurisdiction and timely demands a jury is entitled to a jury trial in his or her BELO lawsuit.
The settlement had been reached in the medical benefits litigation, which was incorporated in multi-district litigation (MDL) over the 2010 disaster in the Gulf. Separate settlements addressed claims for economic and property damage.
The medical benefits settlement applies to people who were part of the cleanup crew following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill or were residents of certain defined beachfront areas and wetlands during certain time periods in 2010. Even though class members released many claims against BP for exposure-related physical injuries through the medical settlement, Judge Barbier said claims for later-manifested physical injuries were generally excepted from the release.
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